Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement: Motion [Private Members]


2:55 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:— that the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement negotiated by the European Commission is a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet;

— that the deal will see the importing of 99,000 tonnes of beef into the European Union (EU) per year, tariff free, which will devastate the Irish beef industry, while simultaneously doing severe climate damage;

— that South American beef has lower safety and consumer standards than our own indigenous beef and uses pesticides and chemicals which are not allowed within the EU, and that there are concerns about the traceability of this meat given the stringent farm to fork chain in Ireland;

— that the wider economic impact of damaging the farming industry will further accelerate the decline of rural Ireland through the closure of small businesses and the loss of local jobs;

— that it undermines our 2030 emission targets and the Government’s recently published Climate Action Plan by importing beef which takes four times the carbon footprint of Irish beef to produce, with additional emissions being created through transportation of the beef from South America to Europe; and

— the further undermining of climate action by accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest which is currently at its highest rate in a decade, where last year alone there was a 13 per cent increase in Amazon deforestation and just last month 739 square kilometers were destroyed, the equivalent to two football pitches every minute;further notes that:— the far-right President of Brazil has shown a complete disdain for human rights, environmental protection and the rule of law since his election;

— the Brazilian Government has failed to adequately demarcate land to indigenous communities and this has led to huge land grabs by agri-business, which is leading to a destruction of these indigenous communities, the environment, and the assassination of community leaders who resist, which will increase massively if the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement is ratified; and

— Brazil has seen a huge increase in attacks on and the murder of indigenous community leaders and on environmental defenders in recent years and it is one of the world’s deadliest places for environmental activists;rejects the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement recently made between the European Commission and the Mercosur group of countries;

mandates the Government to:— vote accordingly at the European Council and the Council of Ministers and consider this motion as binding on this and future Governments; and

— immediately begin building a coalition across the EU to ensure that this deal is rejected; andcalls on the Government to:— ensure that Ireland’s interests are put to the fore in all engagements on this matter, including using all legal and political means available to frustrate and thwart the deal; and

— nominate a suitably competent person to defend Ireland’s interests as the next EU Commissioner.

I wish to share time with Deputies Martin Kenny, Ó Snodaigh, Adams and Ó Caoláin.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin has tabled this motion because it believes the EU-Mercosur trade deal is bad for Ireland, farmers and the environment. We want the Government to stand up for Irish interests and reject this disastrous trade deal. We cannot stand over a trade deal which undermines completely Ireland's climate change targets and the Paris Agreement. We cannot support a deal which requires and facilitates the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. We cannot support a deal that sells out Irish beef farmers and accelerates a race to the bottom in the beef industry on beef quality and workers' rights. The beef sector is an industry of which we should be proud, but the Government seems steadfast in making life as difficult as possible for those who work in it.

4 o’clock

The beef sector now faces three significant threats to its existence. The first threat is the Government's Mercosur deal, which has been agreed by Commissioner Phil Hogan. The second is Brexit, the impact of which can already be seen in our exchanges with Britain. The third is the substantial margins being taken by factories and producers. Very little is being left for farmers, as the primary producers, and for those who work on farms.

If the Government lets the Mercosur deal go ahead, it will be the final nail in the coffin of the beef sector. The deal, which is a threat to farmers, will expose the Irish public to a product that may be dangerous because it is produced using chemicals and hormones which are banned in the EU. Brazilian farmers will be able to undercut Irish beef farmers with their products because the quality of Brazilian beef production standards is well below what is required here and across the EU. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this matter is that unlike in Ireland, where every single animal is tagged, Brazil has little or no traceability. This is a great concern.

The Government is asking the House to support the Mercosur deal in the full knowledge that the President of Brazil has made no secret of his frightening plans to oversee the continuing rapid deforestation of the Amazon and has set out his desire to remove Brazil from the Paris climate change accord. The deforestation of the Amazon, which is now at its highest rate in a decade, increased by 13% last year. Last month alone, an volume of rainforest the size of two football pitches was being cleared every minute. It is no coincidence, and no surprise to anyone, that deforestation in Brazil has been increasing considerably at the same time that it has become the biggest exporter of beef in the world.

How does the Mercosur deal fit in with Ireland's climate action commitments? We declared a climate emergency in this House two months ago. The Government published its climate action plan last month. Given that Ireland and the EU are more than self-sufficient in beef, can the Minister explain the logic behind the carbon-mile footprint that will be required to ship this beef from South America to Europe?

We all know that none of this makes sense from a climate perspective or from the perspective of Irish farmers. To put it plainly and simply, this bad deal trades the Amazon and Irish farmers for cheap beefburgers. Over recent days, Ministers have been saying that this deal has been 20 years in the making and that it will be a long time before anything happens. It seems that Commissioner Hogan does not agree with them because he told the Irish Farmers' Journallast week that if the circumstances are right, we could have a deal "quite soon". I call on the House to reject the Fine Gael amendment, support our motion and reject the Mercosur trade deal.

3:05 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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It was clear to anyone who listened to last night's debate and question-and-answer session on this issue that the Government is determined to press ahead with the proposed deal. This is disappointing for the thousands of farmers who are protesting outside the gates of Leinster House today. They feel their livelihoods are under threat because the Government is working in co-operation with large corporate interests across Europe, such as BMW and Mercedes, that want to be able to sell their products in Latin America in exchange for allowing more beef to come from Latin America into Europe. Even though a tariff has to be paid on the beef that is coming from Latin America to Europe, they can still sell it at a lower price than the price for which Irish farmers can produce and sell their beef. When this trade deal comes in and the tariff is reduced to practically nothing, they will not have a chance. That is the reality for Irish farmers such as those who are in the Gallery this afternoon. They want a fair deal. The Government speaks about fair trade deals and free trade deals, but all our farmers want is fair play.

When I spoke recently to someone who has worked on a farm in Latin America, I was told that every couple of months, the 15,000 cattle on the farm would be rounded up and the fat ones would be picked out, tagged and sent off to the factories. Prior to that, there was no tagging and no traceability. At the moment, less than 1% of farms in Brazil are certified as being free of TB. What situation would we have in Ireland if that were the case here? When animals go down with TB and are locked up, farmers come into our clinics to tell us about the problems they encounter. Even though TB is rampant in the Mercosur countries, we think it is appropriate to put the farmers in those countries on the same scale as Irish farmers who are struggling to survive.

The truth of the matter is that Europe has decided it wants to have a free trade deal with the Mercosur countries so that it can do business on the big field. Irish farmers, Irish agriculture and European agriculture are being put on the back foot and sacrificed. The Minister, Deputy Creed, said that the provisions with regard to beef are the sweetener in the deal. At a time we are talking about global warming and climate change, it is very poor form that Irish farmers are being used to sweeten a deal that will allow the owners of BMW and Mercedes to sell their vehicles, which are probably going to be phased out in Europe in the coming years, in South America. We expect to get support from everyone in the House, including Government Deputies, for our motion. We hope this will happen. It is time for the Government to take a stand by saying to its partners in Europe and to the Commission that the proposed deal is not acceptable. The world has changed in recent years. This Parliament has declared a climate change emergency. The EU intends to do a deal with Latin America, where rainforests are being cut down and untraceable and disease-ridden beef is being produced.

We have to make a stand for ordinary people. I am talking not only about farmers but also about ordinary people around the world who want and expect to get fair play, which is all this is about. If Irish farmers get fair play, they will accept that. They will accept standards in other countries if they have to meet the same standards. Irish farmers are not unreasonable and have never been. The truth of the matter is that there is no possibility of the Mercosur countries going in this direction. I know the Minister has said that a big part of this agreement involves putting pressure on the Mercosur countries to come up to our standards. They are so far behind our standards that it would probably take them two generations to catch up. Their model of farming is totally alien to the model of farming in Ireland and other countries. We are asking the Minister to support this motion, withdraw the Government amendment, which basically waters our motion down to nothing, and accept that Irish farmers and European consumers deserve better than this kind of trade deal.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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After 20 years of negotiating, a provisional trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur countries has supposedly been agreed. The agreement is a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet. There is no two ways about it. As my colleagues said, the deal involves the importation of 90,000 tonnes of beef into each year. A lot more was demanded of the EU. Such imports will cripple the beef industry in Ireland, while simultaneously causing severe climate damage. This deal stands in complete contradiction to the 2030 carbon emissions targets and the Government's climate action plan, which was published recently. The production of the beef to be imported creates a carbon footprint four times the size of the carbon footprint of Irish beef. Additional emissions will be created through transportation of the beef from South America to Europe.

The Government must reject this deal now. I have heard Ministers suggesting that the deal will somehow cause Mercosur countries to improve their environmental protections. Their attitude to the concerns that have been expressed by Sinn Féin is that we always oppose trade deals. We make no apologies for opposing trade deals that have negative effects on Ireland. We have been proven correct in our opposition to many of the trade deals that have been entered into by this Government and its predecessors. Over the years, we have pointed out Israel's clear violations of the provisions in the EU-Israel free trade agreement that relate to the protection of human rights, and indeed its war crimes, but nothing has happened. The EU-Israel agreement is violated each day without any repercussions. We have made similar complaints about the EU-Colombia free trade agreement. We warned that it would lead to a deterioration in human rights and we expressed concern that the human rights provisions in the agreement were not strong enough. Unfortunately, we have been proven to be correct in that case as well.

The Government wants us to sign up to an agreement with a far-right Brazilian President who glorifies the old military dictatorship in Brazil. Since his election, he has shown complete disdain for human rights, environmental protection and the rule of law. His Government has failed to demarcate land to indigenous communities adequately. This has led to significant land grabs by Brazilian agribusiness. This, in turn, is leading to the destruction of these indigenous communities and the environment, as well as to the assassination of community leaders who resist.

These actions will increase significantly if this deal is ratified.

The Brazilian President has stated that he plans to assimilate Brazil’s 800,000 indigenous people into Brazilian society stating that they currently live like animals in a zoo. He plans to remove them from their ancestral land and land reserved for indigenous communities in order to hand it over to commercial agriculture and mining. We should not sign a trade agreement with a country whose president calls its indigenous people "animals" and who is committed to environmental destruction. We should not sign any trade agreement that is going to devastate an Irish industry, as this will devastate our beef industry, in the same way as the EU has already done with our fishing industry. The Government must reject this agreement and ensure it is never ratified.

3:15 pm

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Today, farmers were outside the gates of Leinster House protesting against the EU-Mercosur deal. Yesterday, the IFA held a briefing on the trade deal, the crisis in farm incomes, the adverse effect of Brexit and climate change. There are farmers in the Public Gallery, including some from Louth. They are all appalled by this deal. There is agreement among all the main farming organisations, Opposition parties, and it would appear, some in the Cabinet that this is a bad deal for farmers, a bad deal for the island of Ireland and a bad deal in terms of meeting the challenge of climate change. Around 100,000 producers - farming families and local communities - are involved in the beef and livestock sector. The beef processing sector employs thousands more. The reality is that farmers in my own constituency of Louth, across this State and in the North now face a significant new threat to their livelihoods.

While the focus of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement has been on the beef industry, it also allows for the significant importing of poultry and pigmeat. We should not forget that these new levels of imports are in addition to the 269,000 tonnes of beef and 500,000 tonnes of poultry that the Mercosur states of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay export to the EU. This deal will do serious damage to our struggling agricultural sector and our rural communities, which are already being stripped of essential public services. The farming and agrifood sectors, which already face enormous difficulties and challenges as a result of Brexit, will be put under even greater threat by this deal.

Moreover, at a time when the EU and its member states have prioritised climate change, this deal will encourage states with a poor record of protecting their environments and a record of supporting deforestation. Last week, the Brazilian Space Agency released data documenting a massive spike in deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest. There was a year-on-year 88% increase in deforestation. What this means in practice is that 4,565 sq. km of rainforest were destroyed. That is an area five times the size of County Louth - gone in less than a year.

Climate change is not the only threat from the deal. Farming organisations have already expressed their concern that these states do not have the same standards of traceability, animal welfare or food safety. The Government must vote against this deal when it comes before the EU Trade Council but, crucially, the Irish Government has no veto. That was given away by our friends in Fianna Fáil.


Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Bígí ciúin. I have the floor so could I have a wee bit of manners? To pass, the deal just needs just 55% in a qualified majority vote so the Government must urgently seek allies to ensure that when it comes to vote, this trade treaty is voted down but first, it needs to make it clear that it will block this deal. It can do this by supporting the Sinn Féin motion.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The debate we are having here today on this Mercosur trade deal is primarily about accountability. It is also about transparency and the future of this country and our world. This Government has yet again proved itself to be the epitome of hypocrisy. At a time when, in a piecemeal fashion, Fine Gael and its Independent Alliance colleagues declare a climate emergency in this country, they have been complicit in an agreement to a shabby trade deal motivated solely by profit for certain interests that will have devastating environmental consequences for Ireland, Europe and South America. It has the grubby fingerprints of the big capitalist backers of the politics of Fine Gael, its partners in the European People's Party and, of course, its negotiating Commissioner, Phil Hogan, all over it.

This deal is bad for the environment, ordinary people and the beef industry in Ireland. It is bad full stop. At a time when this country is apparently facing a climate emergency, are we going to roll over and cause untold damage to the climate for the sake of selling European-manufactured cars into South America? To facilitate this entry of cars into their market, the South Americans are tearing down Amazonian rainforests to clear land to graze cattle. They then intend flooding the European market with cheap and, let us be under no doubt about it, substandard beef that this country, which is already in the middle of a beef crisis, will be unable to withstand. Just a few months back, the Taoiseach was telling us he was trying to eat less meat to reduce his carbon footprint. This is globalisation gone mad. It is totally disingenuous of Fine Gael, which wants to impose a carbon tax on Irish citizens that is allegedly aimed at stopping climate change. I urge the Ministers present and the Government to take a step back and think about the logic of their position.

Can the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation confirm whether this House, and we as legislators, will be given the opportunity to vote on whether this deal is signed up to by Ireland? Will this House, which is representative of the people of this State, have the opportunity to make a final determination on the suitability of this deal? I hope that in their responses, the Ministers will clarify the position. There should be no doubt that resistance to the Mercosur deal is growing across Europe. Farmers in France, Italy, Spain and Poland along with Irish farmers are all against it and it is a certainty that resistance will grow further. This Government will have to decide whose side it is on. Is it on the side of the world's climate and ordinary people or is it on the side of the big corporations and their profits? It is make-your-mind-up time. I hope the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Business, Enterprise and Innovation will make the right choice and urge their colleagues in Cabinet to join them in rejecting this so-called deal.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann:” and substitute the following:

"notes:— the announcement by the European Commission on 28th June, 2019, of an agreement in principle on an EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement;

— the very genuine concerns expressed by our farming community in relation to the beef and other agricultural tariff rate quota proposals in the deal particularly given the serious challenges already facing this sector due to Brexit;

— that as a small, open, export-led economy, Ireland very much supports balanced and sustainable international trade; and

— the positive elements in the Agreement for Ireland including the significant benefits for Irish exporters in sectors such as business services, chemicals, the drinks industry, machinery, medical devices, and the dairy industry with a reduction or elimination of tariffs and barriers to trade for these sectors;further notes that:— the Agreement includes a detailed chapter on Sustainable Development Goals and recognises the urgent need for action on climate change;

— the Agreement aligns with the Paris Agreement commitments in relation to deforestation and re-forestation of some 12 million hectares, as a part of ensuring that Mercosur, including Brazil, will have to effectively implement the Paris Agreement as part of this deal; and

— civil society organisations will be given an explicit role in overviewing the implementation of the Agreement and to flag any environmental or labour concerns;recognises that:— it will take approximately two years before the final text of this Agreement is available; and

— the ratification process will involve the European Council, the European Parliament and member state national parliaments, including Dáil Éireann; andagrees that a comprehensive, independent, economic and sustainability assessment will be carried out on the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement, which will ensure that Government makes a fully informed decision when deciding on the position to take when the ratification process on this deal commences in approximately two years' time."

I acknowledge the farmers in the Public Gallery. At the outset of this debate, it is important to acknowledge first and foremost just how vital international trade deals are for this country. Last year, we exported €316 billion worth of goods and services all around the world. The fact is our exports have increased by 74% since 2013 and have played a huge role in the remarkable recovery in our economy over that period so let us be clear and honest here today. As an island nation on the edge of Europe, Ireland has been a major beneficiary of the ability to trade internationally and of our membership of the EU. Free trade has transformed this country from the isolated and impoverished state we were in the 1960s. Many in this House are rightly critical of the protectionist policies that are currently being pursued in the UK in terms of Brexit and by the current Administration in the US.

It is ironic that some of those same people are the first to dismiss an international trade agreement which opens up access to a market of 265 million consumers without giving it any level of detailed scrutiny. As a small, open, export-led economy, we depend on balanced international trade. The key word is “balance”. The Government will go through this agreement in minute detail and see if it strikes the right balance for Ireland.

We also need to acknowledge there are positives in this agreement with significant benefits for Irish exporters. In 2018 alone, Ireland exported almost €2 billion worth of goods and services to the Mercosur region. Our trade with the region has grown by one fifth between 2010 and 2016. This agreement will allow Irish exporters to expand faster and take advantage of new opportunities. In this regard, analysis by my Department estimates a potential doubling of annual goods and services exports from Ireland is possible over the period to 2030.

The deal ensures Irish whiskey and Irish cream liqueur are protected under the EU’s geographical indication, Gl, scheme. It is also important to point out the special provisions for SMEs in the agreement. There are positives for the dairy sector with tariffs on 45,000 tonnes of product including cheese, milk powder and infant formula moving from approximately 19% to zero tariff over a ten-year period presenting significant opportunities for the sector. It is important these benefits from the agreement are acknowledged.

However, this deal is not perfect. I recognise the genuine concerns expressed by our farming community about Mercosur. These concerns are not just about beef but also about our poultry sector and pig farmers. I am from a rural community and live on a farm. I have listened to some Members in the House over the past few days who are happy to jump on a bandwagon to score a cheap political point. The truth, however, is that some of them would not know a bee from a bull’s foot or the difference between a bull and a bullock.

3:25 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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We know what a lot of bull is, however.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We hear a lot of it.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Government has fought to achieve the best deal possible for our farmers. This is a deal negotiated at EU level. As a member state, Ireland has raised serious concerns over a long time on beef access. For my part, I raised these concerns at every opportunity at European Trade Council meetings. I also raised it directly with the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström. As recently as 31 May, I wrote to her once again highlighting our serious concerns, particularly given the current challenges and uncertainty facing the Irish beef sector in light of Brexit.

There has been a sustained effort right across the Government on this matter. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, raised it with his EU counterparts. The Taoiseach also wrote jointly, along with the leaders of France, Belgium and Poland, to highlight our concerns to the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker.

It must be remembered the South American countries were initially looking for a beef quota of 300,000 tonnes. The deal on the table provides for 99,000 tonnes and it is clearly segmented 45% frozen and 55% fresh. It is also carcass weight equivalent ensuring it involves the whole animal, not just prime cuts. Irish farmers produce a high-quality product in a competitive market. They accept there is always going to be competition but they want a level playing field. In that regard, this agreement ensures there will be equivalent standards. EU sanitary and phytosanitary standards, SPS, will not be relaxed in any way. They remain non-negotiable. The highest EU standards will be applied to all imported goods, especially food, to ensure no hormone beef or GMOs will be allowed.

Currently 270,000 tonnes of beef from Mercosur already enter the EU market. Those imports are subject to rigorous testing by veterinary authorities across the EU, work that is overseen by the European Food and Veterinary Office in Grange, County Meath. Equivalent standards are an integral part of this agreement.

Several Deputies have raised genuine concerns on the climate impact of this deal, in particular around the Brazilian track record on the environment. I am not here to defend the Brazilian President, Mr. Bolsonaro, nor would I attempt to do so. However, the Mercosur countries, including Brazil, will have to fully implement the Paris Climate Agreement as part of this deal. I have no doubt the European Commission, as will all member states, will be monitoring Brazil’s actions closely over the next two years. Should Brazil walk away from the Paris Agreement or fail to meet its obligations, then this deal falls. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Did this ever happen before?

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The agreement also provides a solid framework to address human rights issues, including with regard to indigenous peoples. The European Commission has begun the official mechanism at EU level to restrict concessions to Cambodia over similar concerns. It is not true to claim the EU does not act.

This is far from a done deal. At this stage, member states, including Ireland, do not have sight of the full deal. It is an agreement in principle, which must now be transposed into a legal document. That process is going to take over two years to complete and Ireland will input into that process. It then has to be voted through by a qualified majority on the European Trade Council and then go through the European Parliament. After all of that, as it is a mixed agreement, our current understanding is that all member state parliaments, including this House, will have their say on it.

The beef quota will only be introduced on a phased basis over six years. This deal might not be fully felt until around 2028. Meanwhile, 113 days from now, on 31 October, there is a real possibility that we will have a no-deal Brexit. If that comes to pass, it will deliver a serious shock to our economy and, in particular, it will have damaging consequences for the agricultural sector. In that context, with serious immediate challenges like Brexit facing us, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. That is why my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will now proceed to ensure a comprehensive independent economic and environmental sustainability assessment is carried out on Mercosur. We have the time and space necessary to do that. The shape Brexit takes, as well as the impact it has for the agricultural sector, will be a key consideration of that assessment.

There is a long way to go on this. We need to go through this agreement line by line, as more detailed information is known, to establish what the exact opportunities and challenges are across the economy. In the meantime, I, together with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will work to forge alliances with other member states to diminish the impact of this deal for our agriculture sector. The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Government has an open mind on this deal. There are benefits in certain sectors but there are also negatives. We need to determine overall if this deal will be a win or a lose for our economy. We should not lose sight of the fact that in recent years, we have had EU trade agreements with Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Mexico that have been positive for our agriculture sector, particularly providing for the export of 105,000 tonnes of European beef. Those were good trade deals for our agricultural sector. I fully accept that Mercosur is a difficult one. We are not pressing ahead with this deal. The Government must look at this deal in the round. That is what the economic assessment will do. It will ensure the Government makes a fully informed decision when deciding what position to take when the ratification process on this deal commences in two years’ time.

Until that work is complete, and indeed until we have sight of a final legal text on this agreement, it would be premature for the Government to accept the Sinn Féin motion. I encourage Members, therefore, to support the Government’s amendment.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion.

Fianna Fáil has supported previous EU trade deals with Japan, Mexico, Canada and Singapore, which were important and good for this country. It also is important, in the context of the EU making trade deals, that the Government represents the country well and ensures that the deals done are fair in terms of the national interest and proportionate.

Unfortunately, when it comes to this Mercosur deal, we have been let down by the Government in that regard, particularly so when we have had our own national Commissioner in the role of EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, because it is the beef aspect of this deal in particular which represents such a big threat to the country. When one looks at the fact that Ireland is the largest EU exporter of beef and the fifth largest beef exporter globally, the agricultural sector in Ireland will be carrying a lot of weight of the losses of the agreement so that other sectors can benefit, and there are also many poultry and pork quotas involved. That represents a political failure on behalf of the Government in not having ensured that our interests were better represented in Europe with the headline deal that has been achieved.

One of the key reasons the deal does not make sense is the climate change aspect. We have seen the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, along with Commissioner Hogan, propose a 50:50 €100 million stock reduction package in recent months, which involves an option to have domestic stock reduced. Meanwhile, it would appear there is no problem taking in an additional quota from South America to depress our domestic markets further. When one looks at the fact that Europe is 102% self-sufficient for beef, we have no need to take high carbon footprint beef from South America, where it is impacting on the Amazon rainforest, all the way to Europe where it can be produced much more efficiently and to Ireland where we can produce beef more efficiently than in any other part of the world.

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, have been a soft touch in representing Irish interests at European level up to now, alongside Commissioner Hogan. It is time they stiffened their resolve and brought the case to Europe of the damaging impact this deal would have on Irish interests and pushed back to try to ensure that the interests of Ireland, particularly of our agricultural sector, are protected. Our agricultural sector has many representatives here today and had many representatives here yesterday who have made it clear how their livelihoods are at stake as a result of what is being proposed in this deal.

3:35 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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We bore witness yesterday to the Government's laissez-faireattitude to this deal during the question and answer session of statements on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement. Again, people looking on can have little confidence in what this Government will do because the Minister is still unable to say whether we will have a say on the future of this deal. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation says it is her understanding that we will but one would imagine that at a very minimum she would know whether we do or we do not. Yesterday, one Minister was saying one thing and another Minister was saying another. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation seemed to say it was a fait accompliand the only way we would bring about change is if some of the Mercosur countries failed to comply with standards, yet the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, who was quite rightly under pressure on the quality and quantity of beef that is proposed to come into our market, seemed to suggest that a deal that is 20 years in the making could be changed between now and the deal becoming a legal text. He was unable to confirm to my colleague the details of the cut and quite frankly there is huge uncertainty among the community that is looking on and the Minister has given them no confidence.

It was incredible to find out yesterday that the Government has yet to carry out any meaningful economic assessment on what this deal could mean for our country. The Minister tried to tie it in with an economic assessment that has been ongoing for 12 months on a multitude of trade deals but no economic assessment has been carried out on this specific deal and what impact it will have on the Irish economy. The Minister has confirmed in her speech today that this assessment will only commence now. It should have commenced years ago. A small and open economy like ours relies on our ability to trade. Quite simply, without our ability to trade, we could not survive. We are the second largest exporter in the world of IT software and of baby formula and we are in the top ten exporters in the world of pharmaceuticals. When we are talking about trade, we must ensure that we are trading with countries that adopt the same standards and regulatory environment that we operate in, not with a country that is decimating rainforests. I understand that in the past year alone, there has been a 60% increase in the deforestation of our rainforests, which are critical for our environment and for providing global oxygen.

Government needs to engage with like-minded states to ensure the necessary changes are made before any future consideration can be given to this deal. It needs to carry out an economic assessment to ensure it does not have an adverse impact on our economy as well as carrying out an environmental assessment. If the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation is serious about global trade, she needs to tackle what the National Competitiveness Council called our "high cost economy" earlier this year. She needs to tackle our utilities, our cost of credit and our big business and service inputs and then she will be doing our trading businesses a good service.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Preventing catastrophic global temperature increases means rapid and deep decarbonisation in accordance with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Biodiversity loss is also an existential threat, which is fundamentally linked to the climate crisis. This House has made great strides in recent months in the form of the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as well as the more recent declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency. The jury is still out as to whether this Government will tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. At EU level, it is welcome that the Government is supporting a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and must also apply this at national level. However, in terms of the motion before us today, this Government commitment will prove utterly hollow if the Mercosur deal allows for the destruction of the Amazon and the active defiance of the Paris Agreement.

Transparently assessing and improving environmental standards is a cornerstone of EU agriculture policy, an area which Ireland must continue to support actively. Yet it is far from clear whether these criteria will be prioritised and upheld in the context of the Mercosur deal. Brazilian beef is not produced to the same environmental standards as is beef in the EU. It also has a higher carbon footprint. Beef production has become a major driver of deforestation, with most blame attached to the Brazilian Government. Deforestation of the Amazon has surged since President Bolsonaro took office. Deforestation has risen to its highest level in a decade, with clear-cutting up 88% in June compared with the same month in 2018. Over the past 11 months, over 4,000 sq. km have been lost.

It is also worth highlighting the extremely concerning political developments, as well as the worsening environmental and human rights protections in Brazil, which are rightly referenced in the motion before us. Since President Bolsonaro took office in January, eight former Ministers of the Environment have warned that Government actions are undermining Brazil’s environmental protection policies. There are also reports that the Brazilian Government has opposed returning protected lands to indigenous communities. Attacks on environmental activists and indigenous people are on the rise and increasing numbers of small-scale farmers have been displaced. Legislation has been proposed that would relieve farmers of the obligation to maintain up to 80% tree cover on their land. Also, legislation has been proposed to allow an amnesty for those who have deforested. Ministerial appointments have been made which include individuals opposed to climate change and environmental action. The powers of the Ministry of the Environment have been weakened and certain senior positions replaced. Most recently, in June over 340 civil society organisations produced a joint letter to the EU authorities, expressing alarm over the devastating impacts the agreement will have on forests, indigenous peoples’ rights, climate change and small-scale farmers and have urged the EU to halt the negotiations with Mercosur due to these concerns.

This is not an exercise in simply condemning Brazil. Certain Brazilian states have committed to fulfilling the country’s Paris Agreement commitments. Previous Brazilian Governments have also been strong supporters of climate action. We need to focus on the strategy and priorities of this Government and the EU in negotiating this deal.

President Junker and Commissioner Hogan have emphasised that the trade deal includes a provision that the Paris Agreement will be “effectively implemented” and that the Mercosur countries have made specific climate pledges, including on afforestation. However, it is completely clear that even if Brazil has not officially left the Paris Agreement, effective implementation is not taking place. The deal lacks adequate enforcement mechanisms and proper safeguards to ensure forests will be protected and rights respected.

The Government needs to rethink entirely its approach if it is serious about meeting its sustainability objectives in agriculture. This is relevant to the issue of EU leadership on climate change but also Ireland’s campaign for UN Security Council membership where the Government has put much emphasis on climate action.

Fianna Fáil is calling for a new impact assessment of the Mercosur deal on Ireland. At EU level we also need an analysis of the deal’s potential environmental impacts based on up-to-date scenarios. It should be backed by guarantees that no Brazilian products sold in the European Union will lead to increases in deforestation, land grabbing of native lands or human rights violations and confirmation backed by clear evidence that the Brazilian Government is actively taking progressive steps to fulfil its Paris Agreement commitments.

The Mercosur deal is a litmus test of the European Union’s commitment to global climate action. The Government must ensure rigorous enforcement of international obligations and an end to deforestation. We need a fair trade policy that includes global compliance with environmental and social standards. Ultimately, a failure to prioritise respect for climate and environmental obligations will hurt Irish farmers and undermines both Ireland's and the European Union’s international standing.

3:45 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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The EU-Mercosur trade deal is a sell-out of European agriculture. What makes it all the more galling is that it has been done by one of our own. When Ray MacSharry held the same agriculture portfolio, he framed CAP reform in a way that would suit Irish beef farming. Here we have a Commissioner framing a trade deal that will bring devastation to the agriculture industry. The production of beef, poultry, pigs, sugar beet and ethanol will be undermined by this trade deal. At a time when Brexit is heading to its conclusion and given that the European Union after Brexit will be 116% self-sufficient in beef production, it beggars belief that a deal such as this could be done to allow extra beef into the European market.

What is most galling for Irish farmers is the hypocrisy of the Commission on climate change. European food producers know that they must adapt to climate change. They know that it will bring extra production costs, but they were prepared to do this. They see the Commission enforcing all of these climate change restrictions on them, but then it does a deal that will hasten climate change on the planet. There is no way that addressing climate change is compatible with importing beef, poultry and pigs from halfway across the world to take the place of European produce. That is why such a large group of farmers were on the streets today. They find the hypocrisy of the Commission impossible to swallow.

Photo of Margaret Murphy O'MahonyMargaret Murphy O'Mahony (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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With any trade deal there will obviously be give and take. However, this deal provides for loads of give on behalf of farmers, which is very unfair. It will result in the decimation of farming, especially beef, poultry, pigs and sugar beet farmers. It does not provide a level playing field and is environmentally hypocritical.

Many farmers in my constituency of Cork South-West have contacted me in recent weeks. They are genuinely concerned about the consequences of the deal. It is inevitable that the influx of beef into the European Union will impact greatly on our beef producers who export 90% of their produce to the United Kingdom. Producers who are already at rock bottom will feel it even more. It is no exaggeration to say the devastation for the farming community in Cork South-West will be unreal. By extension, their families will feel it and thus, in essence, the local economy. This is not to mention further economic losses that will be incurred as an indirect result of the deal or the impact it will have on the environment. It is somewhat remiss of the European Union to slap sanctions on Ireland over climate change, while at the same time agreeing to the transportation of tonnes of beef halfway across the world when there is a superior version of the same product on our doorstep. It also seems to be somewhat remiss to agree to a deal of this magnitude without knowing exactly what will happen with Brexit which presents the biggest challenge to the European Union. The interests of Irish farmers must be represented in Europe. I call on the Ministers present to be the voice of the farmers of Cork South-West and the country as a whole. They should support the motion in the interests of farmers and all stakeholders in Ireland. I plead with them to reject the deal.

Photo of John BrassilJohn Brassil (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I am speaking in support of the motion. The Minister said:

I am not here to defend the Brazilian President, Mr. Bolsonaro, nor would I attempt to do so. However, the Mercosur countries, including Brazil, will have to fully implement the Paris Climate Agreement as part of this deal ... Should Brazil walk away from the Paris Agreement or fail to meet its obligations, then this deal falls. It is as simple as that.

I ask the Minister to change that and simply say that if Brazil walks away from the Paris Agreement, the EU-Mercosur deal will not start. I assure her that Brazil has walked away from the Paris Agreement. Its Prime Minister is a climate change denier. He has said global warming is a plot. He has right-wing attitudes on all issues such as same-sex marriage and homosexuality. In no way will he meet the requirements of the Paris climate accord. He has not done so to date and will not do so in the future. We should not even contemplate this deal until that country and its leader come into line, which will not happen in the first place.

The Minister also said: "The Government has absolutely fought to achieve the best deal possible for our farmers." I have not met a single farmer who agrees with that statement. If the agriculture community in its entirety is telling me and everybody else that this is a bad deal for farmers, we should not be signing up to it. We should be gathering allies in the European Union - something we should have been doing for the past four years - to prevent this deal from going through. The single biggest issue on our agenda is climate change and we are already turning our backs on it.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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I know the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to be a sincere person. In all my dealings with her since my election to this House in 2016 I have found her to be sincere. I do not believe she believes in the address she made to us today. She keeps telling the House that it is not a done deal. However, she emphasised strongly that it would be introduced on a phased basis and would not be operational until 2028. She emphasised that the deal would not commence for two years. She emphasised strongly that these boys wanted 300,000 tonnes of beef coming in and that the EU side had brought it down to 99,000 tonnes. What does that tell me and my colleagues? Does it tell the farm families of Ireland that the Government has decided to go with this deal? Excuse the pun but the Government is making the beef sector the sacrificial lamb. That is the reality; it is taking a gamble.

There are 6,000 farm families in County Roscommon and a few thousand more in the part of County Galway I represent. I spoke recently to farmers in Ballygar and Williamstown on the Roscommon-Galway border. They all tell me that they believe their options are selling or using their land for forestry. The Government is about to get the biggest hop it has ever got with this deal. The farming community will take it on and fight it on this issue.

Overwhelmingly, the House does not agree with the deal. Government Members should do the right thing and support the motion. We should move forward united to get a better deal. We are not against the trade deal, but we want a better deal for rural communities and farmers. The Minister should remember that this applies strongly in her constituency, particularly to the poultry sector. It also applies to the pigmeat sector. Government Members should take away their objections and support the motion in order that we can work together to get a better deal.

3:55 pm

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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As I have stated a number of times over the past two weeks, on behalf of the Labour Party, this deal as constituted is a bad deal for Irish farmers and for the economy, especially the rural economy and the environment. I know the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will not support its ratification in its current guise. Nine out of every ten cows produced on Irish farms have to be exported. We have a 900% oversupply. Farmers are feeling the pinch already and beef prices are significantly below the cost of production. The looming threat of Brexit has to be the immediate focus because it poses a threat to farmers' livelihoods. The European beef market on which we depend is already oversupplied and the introduction of this 99,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen meat into an already over-saturated market makes no sense, economic or otherwise. Therefore our economy and our farmers’ livelihoods cannot be put at risk.

From an environmental perspective this deal cannot proceed. A couple of weeks ago, the Government launched a comprehensive climate action plan which calls for further reductions in carbon emissions from Irish agriculture. Irish farmers have worked hard in recent years to meet higher environmental, health and welfare standards imposed on the sector yet the nations we propose to import beef from come nowhere near close to our standards. Deforestation of rain forests for agricultural use has been common practice in some of the nations involved in this deal. That is not to mention that huge carbon emissions output, which will arise from the transportation of this meat. It is folly to say we are addressing climate change issues at home and then put that at naught by this import. That is why it must be resisted, even on that score alone.

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit is looming large and is the most immediate issue to be addressed. While we are rightly spending some time talking about the Mercosur deal, the loss of our largest beef export market, the UK, will have a devastating impact with 300,000 tonnes involved. That is three times more than the amount we are discussing here, 99,000 tonnes, which is to be distributed around the EU. The 300,000 tonnes comprise the amount of one of our products we put directly into it. The Brexit uncertainty and concerns arising therefrom, such as the weak sterling has severely dented the confidence of farmers in this area. We know how important that is for our rural economy and throughout the country, especially in large areas of the west of Ireland.

We have to put the EU-Mercosur deal into a bit of context from a trade perspective. What we are talking about is not intended to be just a trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries. There was to have been a long-planned partnership agreement but where is the partnership? The draft deal is all about free trade. There is no detail about genuine social and environmental co-operation or about a real partnership between South America and Europe. The Labour Party is not in favour of unregulated free trade. We cannot support the draft EU-Mercosur deal as it is currently constituted. We are in favour of fair trade, which improves workers' rights, protects the environment and offers a fair deal to all sections of Irish society, including our farmers, especially in the beef, pig and poultry sectors. Fair trade does not just happen. It has to be made happen by strong rules and enforcement of those rules. The European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC, and its counterpart in South America, the co-ordinator of central labour organisations, CCSCS, are both committed to the development of a genuine partnership agreement if there are strong guarantees in place. For years, the ETUC and the CCSCS have been calling for a more balanced partnership, based on social justice and guaranteed respect for the environment. Those are prizes worth fighting for but this draft agreement does not deliver same. We have had a significant period of EU membership which has been good for Ireland. Our incomes grew. We would like to see other countries achieve the same level of economic development and progress as Ireland has achieved but we do not want to pull up the ladder behind us. That is why we would welcome a genuine partnership between the EU and Mercosur, as long as it is built on strong workers' rights and environmental protection but the draft deal is not convincing in any aspect of enforcement.

Yesterday, there was a struggle to explain the dispute resolution mechanism that will be used in this deal and how it will work. Any dispute resolution mechanism must be under democratic control, with clear processes that include trade unions, environmental groups and civil society groups. Instead, trade union organisations and other civil society groups have been rebuffed every time they have asked for a place at the negotiating table. All the deal-making has been shrouded in secrecy. Why should we have any confidence that the current draft deal will improve workers' rights and save the rainforest? We cannot. All of that is even before I return to our farmers and farm workers. There is no doubt that this deal is a bad deal as currently constructed.

The deal says European food standards will not be compromised but there is no guarantee that Argentina and Brazil have the technical and administrative capacity to achieve European quality standards at this time. Will there be boots on the ground to ensure biosecurity and phytosanitary standards are observed and adhered to? We are familiar with the work that goes into ensuring high standard food quality. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland does excellent work, as does the European Food and Veterinary Office, which is based in Navan. The work of these organisations provides consumers in Ireland and around Europe with reassurance that the meat they buy is of high quality and is safe for them and their families. What reassurance would we have from Mercosur countries? It is a matter of significant policy difference. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is acutely aware of this. Argentina and Brazil permit hormone treatments and other practices that are illegal in Ireland. There is no tagging in Brazil, no database and no traceability. Foot and mouth disease is rampant. I recall being here in 2000 and 2001 before the Minister came in here. This place almost closed down. It came to a halt because of foot and mouth. We adjourned and we were all around the country fighting that. Why should we allow this become a threat? The deal says there will not be compromise but I do not know about that. There is a reason we do not have European free trade in food. We have a regulated social market approach to farming and that is as it should be. We have tried to keep improving over the years to achieve decent incomes for farmers, increasing productivity and keeping the backbone of the rural economy going. Our farmers cannot compete on a free trade basis with beef coming from Argentina and Brazil. We need a level playing field and the only way to achieve that is to raise the South American farmers up, not lower the economic security and incomes of Irish and European farmers.

We are not going to give up our livestock farmers for this deal nor should we ever contemplate sacrificing them for a tawdry cars for cows accord between the EU and the four countries in the South American bloc. The Labour Party will not support the deal as it stands. We will work constructively to achieve partnership with working people in other countries. Excellent deals have been concluded with Japan and other places. It is on that basis that we support the Sinn Féin motion.

One has to wonder. Many people say this is a provisional accord but environmentalists have indicated that the proposed provisional trade deal is a double whammy for the planet. It exacerbates the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and encourages the production of gas guzzlers. The most troubling aspect of it is how we can enforce the applicable standards. What is in writing might be difficult to apply in theory. An area the size of a football field is razed every minute in the rainforest. There are no controls. That is why this deal has to be binned in its current form.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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By agreeing in principle to the Mercosur deal, the Government and the EU have stabbed the farmers of this country in the back. They have betrayed the fight to deal with the climate emergency. They are sabotaging efforts to deal with the horrendous destruction of the Amazon rainforests and betraying any commitment to human rights or indeed even to the aspirations and livelihoods of small farmers in Latin America.

I do not say that as a bandwagon jumper. I was in Genoa in 2002 at the G8 summit where we were tear-gassed and batoned off the streets, standing alongside indigenous people from Brazil, farmers from France and Italy when this deal was first being hatched, protesting against the plans to bring in these deals, which would destroy the small farmers and producers of Europe, destroy the environment and drive a coach and horses through any commitment to human rights. That is our record and it was that which led us to oppose the Lisbon treaty because as we warned at the time, the Lisbon treaty signed away our veto to oppose this kind of trade deal.

5 o’clock

That does not mean opposing trade. Rather, it means trade should be fair and sustainable, not done in the interest of a tiny group of corporations but that is what is going on. Small farmers, the environment and human rights are being sacrificed for German car manufacturers, large pharmaceutical industries, a small number of large manufacturing industries and the financial services industry. Rural Ireland and small farmers are being destroyed in that agenda. The commitment that there will be safeguards for the Paris Agreement are nonsense because we have lost our veto. The Germans will say they want their cars to be exported to Brazil and none of the clauses will be invoked. We know this happens with human rights clauses in deals because the Government never calls out the Israelis. Despite the commitments to human rights in the trade association agreements, the Government never does anything about it because big business comes before any of those commitments.

All that can be done now is for farmers to keep on the streets and link up with other farmers and environmentalists, throughout Europe and Latin America, who fight and resist the deal in order that it can be brought down. Otherwise, the environment and rural Ireland will suffer terrible consequences.

4:05 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I raise the issue of the Mercosur trade agreement in respect of climate change. The United Nations has told us there are 11 years in which to prevent irreversible damage to the planet from climate change. The trade agreement seriously undermines attempts to do that. The world number one carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest, is under threat from deforestation. Some 800 sq. km of rainforest was hacked down in 2018. That is an area 100 times the size of Manhattan. Cattle ranchers and farmers are responsible for 80% of that deforestation. The world's largest meat processor is a Brazilian corporation called JBS. Its greenhouse gas emissions were greater than the total greenhouse gas emissions of the Netherlands in 2016. It sells meat from companies that have been fined for deforestation. The situation has worsened in the past six months with the election of the extreme right-wing President, Bolsonaro. Since the start of the year, there has been a dismantling of environmental protections, a surge in the number of invasions of lands owned by indigenous peoples and a large spike in deforestation in the Amazon.

These are the corporations and politicians whom the Minister is talking about doing a trade deal with for more beef. The Mercosur agreement, the so-called cows for cars trade deal, is a boost for the Brazilian beef industry, those responsible for deforestation and those who threaten the climate and planet. The EU had a trade-for-all strategy in 2015, where it indicated it could use trade agreements to promote sustainable development. The deal in question does nothing of the sort.

It is not a one-way street. The export of cars, many of them German, to the Mercosur countries will not help the climate, although it will help the German car industry, which will sell many sport utility vehicles or gas guzzlers. It will mean job devastation for car workers in countries such as Argentina and for industry in those countries.

Capitalism threatens the very future of the planet, putting profit above all else, including the needs of the environment and the next generation. If one needs further proof, one should look at the Mercosur trade deal. We oppose the deal and will support the motion.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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Farmers receive just €3.10 for every €10 paid for beef in supermarkets. Farmers' share has been slashed by one quarter in the past 15 years. Over that period, South American beef has been used as one of the most important tools in undermining the margin paid to Irish suckler farmers. If the Mercosur deal is ratified, the equivalent of 1 million head of cattle a year will be transported up to 11,000 km from South America. Brazilian ranchers clear an area the size of County Cork every year to meet a European market that already produces enough beef to meet demand. It is a bad deal for Irish beef farmers and the climate.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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One third of Irish farmers are deemed to be able to make enough money to make a living on their farm, while another third can only do that by working off their farm. Teagasc estimates that one third of farmers simply do not make enough money whatsoever. The number of farmers in the State is falling, average wages are on the floor and poverty is rampant among farmers. The Government has allowed for multiples and factories to have massive buyer power and they are squeezing the last cents out of farmers to make super-normal profits. On top of this, Fine Gael seeks to enforce the Mercosur deal, which will put Irish farmers at an unfair competitive disadvantage. They will have to deal with significant regulatory costs while their competitors will have little or none. It could not happen at a worse time. We are teetering at the edge of Brexit and the deal will do further damage to beef producers in Ireland.

Fine Gael has long stopped bothering about rural Ireland. Its centre of gravity is currently in south Dublin. Anybody who has any confusion about the matter should consider the lopsided state of the country. Capital plans are overheating, the commuter belt is sprawling and many parts of rural Ireland are being emptied of their younger population.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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When I was speaking on Mercosur in recent weeks, the concerns I outlined related to Brazil and the letter to the EU, signed by 350 civil society organisations, on the deteriorating human rights and environmental conditions in Brazil. Around the same time, approximately 600 scientists with representatives of indigenous communities called on the EU to support human rights and sustainable development in the light of the increased violations and threats to indigenous peoples and their lands in ecologically valuable areas. Civil society in Brazil is under severe threat because of President Bolsonaro's campaign of anti-activism. His plans include supervising and monitoring those non-governmental organisations and international agencies that draw attention to such issues, while his Cabinet contains at least two ministers who are deniers of climate change and global warming. It is staggering to think the Mercosur countries originally sought a beef quota of 300,000 tonnes, whereas the deal will now provide for 99,000 tonnes. That will require an awful lot of grazing land and, in this time of climate awareness and urgency, it is illogical that forests will be cut down for grazing cattle while our farmers are being encouraged to grow trees, not least in view of the emissions from cattle.

Food safety is the other aspect. Great progress is being made here on raising awareness, the importance of traceability, knowing about the meat we eat and what the cattle are fed, but this is a retrograde step. We know that people will buy cheaper meat. Some people have no option but to do that, such are their circumstances, but we will not know exactly what is in the meat.

There are so many questions about the trade deal. I have previously mentioned the investor-state dispute settlement. The deal is presented as historic and it took 20 years. The Minister stated it is not a done deal and that it has not been approved by any member states or the EU. There is an opportunity, therefore, to examine it. It has been dominated by beef issues, about which there are genuine concerns, but other aspects in the deal also need to be examined. There is an opportunity for a high level group to do that forensic examination, particularly to climate-proof and rights-proof it and to check it for threats to Irish farming and businesses. There is finally a business and human rights implementation group here and it could discuss the matter.

The Dutch trade minister wrote an opinion piece stating this is an opportunity for Europe to export its high social and environmental standards to South American companies. We know the need for labour rights, better working conditions, a living wage and a minimum wage in the Mercosur countries. She claims there are strict monitoring mechanisms, a commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement and so on. There is no doubt about the anger of Irish farmers. It was palpable not just in emails they sent but also earlier on the streets.

Many issues must be addressed and we need thorough scrutiny of all that is involved before accepting or rejecting a deal. We must have fully formed decisions and where improvements are to be made, they must be made.

4:15 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for the time. I support the motion. In conjunction with the motion, a seed has been sown by the quiet people in rural Ireland as the Beef Plan Movement has brought people together to come to Dublin city at a time of year they would otherwise be at silage, hay or other work. People from all parts of the country have given their time to show their disgust at what is going on in the farming sector. This is not just about Mercosur and I have listened for the past while as Members spoke about climate change. In the past three weeks, we have seen a document that will screw these farmers out of €15 in every €100 when they make silage or hay. This is a time factories are abusing farmers and those farmers are being treated in a disgusting fashion in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations. Brexit is around the corner as well. The final kick in the teeth is the European Union decision on the Mercosur deal.

Seven, eight or ten years ago, when this country was on its knees, we were damn glad to rely on the agricultural industry for €3.5 billion of exports from the beef sector. Everybody welcomes the fact that our country has started to do better but those farmers seem to be the forgotten people now. Instead, we will do a deal with countries where there is no animal traceability and there are high rates of tuberculosis. It has been proven that these countries have sold rotten meat to other countries. We know these countries are cutting areas of forestry the size of a football pitch every minute but this deal is meant to be all in the name of tackling climate change. This beef will be hauled halfway around the world, no more than what we are doing with some of our biomass. Do we think that is good?

Europe is trying to eliminate some of these types of systems so it can be a clean area in comparison with everyone else. People have spoken about "Mercs for meat" but before we speak of climate change, we should speak about people, families, livelihoods, living, communities and areas in rural Ireland that must survive. These are areas where 100,000 farmers rely on the beef sector and where some families work but many farmers put bread and butter on the table not alone for their families but for the shopkeeper and butcher down the road and the local hardware merchant. We must remember that this is not just about the 100,000 farmers. What are we to do? Shall we make a theme park out of the west of Ireland or, indeed, the rest of Ireland because we are the green and clean economy? Are we to let someone else produce the stuff?

There seems to be an agenda driven by Europe that we should plant much of this country and forget about this type of farming. We must remember that we are heading into Brexit and we may have to borrow €5 billion in our next budget. We are looking at people losing their livelihoods because of Brexit and this deal. If a person does not have a livelihood, he or she cannot contribute to an economy and will need funding. In the past few days I have heard about the great fund of €1 billion that Commissioner Phil Hogan has procured. Is that €1 billion going to save 27 countries in Europe? We should remember that our exports from beef alone are worth more than €3 billion so Phil can shove his €1 billion where the sun does not shine. It will not save our beef industry. We need to put a floor under it and get real. We must believe that people are more important in our country than winking and nodding to other bureaucrats in Europe doing their deals. We must stand up for our people in each part of the country now in their hour of need. I have heard people saying we must look at how this will go over the next few years. Our MEPs and Councils of Ministers, along with everybody in these Houses, must stand together as Irish people to fight for farm families once and for all.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am glad to be able to contribute on this matter. I welcome the support of Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and Richard Boyd Barrett as we are in a crisis affecting all of Ireland except the groups from Dublin. None of those Members is here. The Government's wonderful leader and other Ministers care nothing about what happens beyond the Red Cow. The late Mr. Seymour Crawford, God rest him, was the mentor of the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, but I do not know what he would say to her today because he would not have had anything to do with this deal. The Minister knows he fought all his life in the Irish Farmers' Association. The father of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, was also a Member.

This is an outrageous sellout but what else should we expect from big Phil the destroyer - the enforcer who ran riot in this country when he was here. Now he is running riot in Europe and the Government has the cheek to appoint his as Commissioner again. It is jobs for the boys. The Ministers saw those Beef Plan Movement farmers today and we met members of the IFA yesterday. Tomorrow we will have hill and sheep farmers coming here to tear into the Government because they are sick and tired of it. The Government has walked on the people of rural Ireland and its little people. All the Government cares about now are the banks, the likes of Larry Goodman and big business. There are big deals with Granahan McCourt for broadband so it is about anything that is big and which can give plenty of money to the Government. To hell with the little people seems to be the thinking. Fine Gael was never any different and it had no interest in small farmers. It had the fellows with the winding avenues and big trees. By God, the members of this Government will have to hide up those trees because the people are sick and tired of them. The saying is "To hell or to Connacht" but it will be to hell or to Connacht for Fine Gael if it backs this deal.

The lads beside me backed the Lisbon treaty twice but I was the bigger fool in the Fianna Fáil Party at the time. That was the start of the selling out of our people. It sold out de Valera's party and the struggle of the War of Independence. We are being told by Europe what is good for us. Saint Leo negotiated the backstop and said the deal was secure nearly a year and a half ago. Where is it now? Briste. Tá sé imithe. The Mercosur deal was going through all the time, as the Government knew. Tweedledum and Tweedledee were going to Europe to save us. The Government should vote against this now and send a signal to Europe and the rest of the world that we will not have this and we will stand for our people. That is before the people come here to tear out the Government. We had vermin in part of the building yesterday but what the Government has done to the people is nearly as bad. It does not care about them. It is destroying the people while it is in bed with the banks. Shame on them.

Photo of Michael HartyMichael Harty (Clare, Independent)
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I also support the motion on the proposed EU-Mercosur trade deal and I urge the Government to reject that deal. This proposal will affect Ireland much more than any other European country in the same way a hard Brexit will affect Ireland much more than any other European country. The effects of the Mercosur deal may fade into insignificance if we have a hard Brexit as by the time it comes along, it may not make a lot of difference because there will not be many beef farmers left. In my constituency, particularly west Clare, suckler farming is the mainstay of farming income. If that is destroyed by a hard Brexit, the Mercosur deal will not make much difference.

Another issue being faced by west Clare farmers and others around the country is the price that they get from meat factories. There is a major problem as the retail price in supermarkets for meat is several times what the farmer receives for producing that beef. The middle men are making more money than the producers. These are two important issues for the beef industry. We have fair trade in this country for coffee and fruit and vegetables but there is not fair trade in the production of beef. We need beef that is traceable, of good quality and in which we can have confidence. Mercosur is destroying the indigenous populations in South America, where rainforest is being cut down, and this is very serious. The environmental damage that this causes is also something that should be taken into account by this Government and Europe.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Thousands of decent and honest people from all over came to protest outside the gates of Leinster House today. They are very angry. They are already squeezed by the factories and if Brexit happens, they know they will be squeezed further. It is outlandish to think the Government is considering a deal with Mercosur when it complies with no rules and regulations. The animals are not tagged or anything. There is foot and mouth disease in those countries. Against this we can see how all farmers here for at least 20 years have gone through every hoop and met the highest standards. There are inspections every day and Department vets are on top of them. They comply with every regulation so it is outlandish to think we could even consider this deal.

It is of no benefit to the people of rural Ireland, the small farmers and the decent people from Kerry and all over the country who came to protest outside the gates of Leinster House today. Why would the Government even consider it when it is of no benefit to those people? It will hurt them, drive them into the ground and finish them. All those people want to do is to continue what their fathers did before them, to carry that on and hand the farm down to the generation following them in a slightly better condition. This Government has not helped farmers with the factories and is going to hurt them further by even entertaining this agreement. This deal is with a crowd from South America that are complying with no rules and regulations. They are breaking every rule in the book.

Commissioner Hogan had a cheek to ask Ireland to cut down production and plant more land when hundreds of acres are being cut down every day. Back in 2013, the then Minster for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told farmers to increase production. What kind of a crowd is the Government? The truth is that the Government is supporting Hogan.

4:25 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Any Mercosur type deal agreed by this Government will have devastating consequences for Irish farmers, whether beef, dairy, poultry or pig. Today, over 2,000 farmers from west Cork and throughout the country, led by the Irish Beef Plan movement, protested outside the Dáil. Most of them left their wellingtons behind them because many beef farmers know it is all over because the Government has sold them down the swanny and they are going down the tubes. The Government should be proud of itself.

Those farmers are angry because they have listened to Ministers and the Taoiseach finding a nice way out of saying they are backing this deal in the past week. There are 80,000 beef farmers, each of whom spends €30,000 in the local economy. The loss of that spend in local villages will lead to further closures of shops, pubs and schools in rural Ireland.

This Government has stood idly by while towns and villages have died before our eyes. The €100 million to support beef farmers that was announced before the local and European elections was a sop to get a few people elected. It looks as if the devil is in the detail because no one knows who is entitled to that money. The Beef Plan Movement must play a big part in this with other farm organisations. They were united outside the gates of Dáil Éireann today. I call on the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, and the Beef Plan Movement to stand together and stop rotten beef from coming into this country. Stop Fine Gael selling us down the swanny one more time.

The only way the 2,000 people who were outside the gates of Leinster House today feel there is a way forward is if this Government is booted out. I call on my Fianna Fáil colleagues to bring this Government down. We must bring it down if we are to save rural Ireland and the beef farmers in this country.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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It is ironic that, in the same week there has been commentary regarding the re-appointment of Phil Hogan as EU Commissioner for agriculture, we are here again discussing the trade deal which will have such a dramatic impact on Ireland and Irish food producers.

Last week, Commissioner Hogan wrote to TheIrish Times and said that concerns about the Mercosur deal were overblown, inaccurate and disingenuous. I wonder how the farmers outside the gates of Leinster House feel about their concerns being described as overblown and disingenuous by the Commissioner. He wanted to point out that the central tenet of the Mercosur deal is that trade should not happen at the expense of the environment and labour conditions, yet all of the evidence points to the contrary. We know that the EU recently had to impose a temporary halt on Brazilian meat imports from certain plants as a result of revelations regarding contaminated meat and a culture of lax regulation, including bribery of key agricultural officials to turn a blind eye to poor hygiene, atrocious labour conditions and a disregard for environmental concerns.

Ireland has passed a climate emergency motion. This is a time when climate protesters throughout Europe are making their voices heard. People know we are on the climate precipice and significant action is required if we are to offset some of the damage already inflicted. In the absence of proper commitments to environmental sustainability from the US and China, it is the role of the EU to take a leadership role on the sustainable agenda.

Beef farmers are in the spotlight at the moment but the poultry industry would also be significantly impacted by the Mercosur deal. There are concerns about chlorinated chicken coming through the back door if there is no Border post Brexit. This deal would mean that some of the meat produced to that standard would be coming through the front door. Producing food to a high standard costs money. If others are producing low-quality food at a reduced cost, it is obvious that it will impact the overall standards and quality available in the food sector generally.

It is important that Ireland does trade deals and benefits from them but the standards must be such that we do not trade ourselves out of an industry. There is no doubt that we must create a more sustainable farming sector and that has to be done by working with the sector. Brexit is obviously a huge risk to the sector and this deal is a challenge too far. The Social Democrats will be supporting this Sinn Féin motion.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The Green Party is happy to support this Sinn Féin motion. My 75 colleagues in the European Parliament intend to vote against this deal when it is presented. That will be critical because every vote is going to count. The question for parties here is not only how we think in this Chamber but what their colleagues in the European Parliament are going to do.

The Green Party is going to vote against the Mercosur agreement in Europe because we think the standards that are being put in place cannot be enforced. There is no real enforcement mechanism on the environmental and labour standards that are cited by the parties supporting this agreement.

One cannot ignore the fact that the Government in Brazil is a threat to the local, indigenous people and to the Amazon in a way that is a threat to us all. The European Union is talking about preserving certain values, principles and standards in global trade and I cannot see how the EU can do a deal under which those considerations are dispatched. How can we do a deal when the Brazilian Government is fundamentally opposed to the values we represent?

This is a critical moment in time. As Deputy Harty said, there is a real prospect that, if a no-deal Brexit occurs, our farming community will be in havoc and facing a real crisis, beyond anything comparable in this country for a long time. Mercosur presents a similar threat to that posed by Brexit but it should be a signal for us to change our ways and that the current model of how we pay and support Irish farm families is not working and needs to change. We have an opportunity to do this under the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. We in the Green Party have been saying we should pay our farmers properly for protecting biodiversity at home. It is not just the Amazon we need to look after. We have our own equivalent here in the peat bogs we have let go and lost.

We must pay our farmers for being scientific and expert in restoring pristine water quality. I understand that is allowed for in the new CAP rules. Let us pay our farmers properly for training a whole new generation of young farmers. The current system is not serving Irish farming. The average age for a beef farmer is 57 and rising. Before those men and women retire, let us pay them properly for training a whole new generation of young people into Irish farming who have expertise on how we manage and use our land. What the environmental movement needs more than anything is farmers with real skill and knowledge of local land conditions. We should also pay them for storing carbon.

Perhaps most importantly, we must pay farmers a proper price for high quality food. We are currently trading on an Origin Green brand and getting a commodity price on the international markets. That is a fact and the core of the problem.

We produce high quality food which, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, is tagged and well husbanded compared to other parts of the world. We should be getting a premium for that and we are not. We should start at home by developing local, indigenous markets where there is a better connection between the consumer and the farmer and it is not always the retailer and processor who make all the money.

We have been saying this for years. I am so glad, in listening to the debate in recent days and hearing the same arguments come from other sides of the House, that we are taking climate change seriously. We cannot ignore the destruction of rainforests. We must start breaking down the power imbalances in Irish agriculture with certain companies. Anglo Beef Processors stands out, as it is a Luxembourg, rather than an Irish, registered company. It pays 0.03% in tax on its corporate profits, while the average beef farmer earns €13,000 or less. This is a wake-up call for Irish agriculture. It is not just about the Mercosur deal or the threat from imported beef products from Brazil; it is also about waking up to the threat from the current model being pursued by the Government. It not food wise but food stupid and it is time to change.

4:35 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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In 2017 the European Union declared that it was ready to continue giving global leadership in the fight against climate change. In December 2018 the European Commission published a road map in promising to tackle global deforestation and, in particular, reduce the European Union's role in it. The European Union clearly acknowledged that it was part of the problem, yet only months later it stands ready to trade with one of the greatest climate destructors in the world. Brazil's President has pledged to limit fines for destroying the rainforest and weaken the influence of its environmental agency. He also wants to open up indigenous peoples' lands to commercial farming. The Amazon which runs through one of the world's greatest rainforests and which is one of the world's greatest providers of oxygen lost 739 km2 in the 31 days of May which is equivalent to losing two football pitches every minute. Environmentalists have confirmed that there will be an acceleration in the coming months, which will make 2019 one of the worst years in living memory for deforestation. That is frightening.

The European Union has acknowledged its role in global deforestation resulting from the demand for commodities such as soy, beef, coffee and palm oil. Between 1990 and 2008, the EU 27 imported and consumed 10% of global production of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin, which was equivalent to 9 million ha. This deal will intensify the damage being done and in signing up to it the European Union will play and even greater role in causing destruction, while simultaneously claiming to be a leader on climate change. It cannot have it both ways.

We do not need to import thousands of tonnes of beef from anywhere, especially if it means shipping it over 8,650 km from Brazil or over 11,000 km from Argentina. Why should we when Ireland is one of the greatest beef producers anywhere in the world? Mercosur is a bad deal for the environment, food quality and Irish farming. Fine Gael has a choice to make today. It will determine the position Ireland will take on the deal. It must be a resounding "No" to Mercosur.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I will not shout down the Ministers as I want them to listen to me. The deal seems to go out of its way to tick all of the boxes as being the unacceptable face of big European trade. It says a lot that it was 20 years in the making. It is an indictment of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which have played a central role in the European Union for decades. It also speaks to how grossly out of date it is for the modern Europe and the new challenges faced by the world. The idea that free trade means free people has been proved to be a lie told by those who benefit. Free trade simply means free profit for the already powerful and wealthy who control our world. Brazil's far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, hailed it as historic and one of the most important trade deals of his time. He is on the side of the land barons who have robbed the country for a century and are now destroying the Amazon at an ever-increasing rate, while imprisoning political opponents such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It is interesting that the European Union could not strike a deal with Brazil when it had a President who wanted to save the Amazon. Now we will swoop in to reap the spoils in an environmental catastrophe.

Many things have been said about traceability, the quality of products and so on, but no one has spoken about the social impact of the deal. I listened to many of the farmers outside today, many of whom were from my constituency. The incidence of suicide among the young in the farming community is on the rise. The farming community could be wiped out if the deal goes through. They will not have a livelihood or be able to provide for their families. People are genuinely worried. It is a very bad deal for Ireland. Farmers are already struggling and fed up of being beaten with their own sticks. I appeal to the Ministers to support Sinn Féin's motion. Mercosur is the betrayal of every Irish person because of its social impact. We must be realistic. This country cannot produce beef at a cheaper price than what will be imported. Therefore, we will not be able to sell it. The same applies to poultry and pigs. The Government is wiping out a full sector of the farming community, not only businesses but also families. Where are they going to go? Will there be another crisis? We will not have farmers. We will have banks chasing people and undertakers will have to work overtime. That is how bad it could get.

The deal is the betrayal of the country, the economy and the environment. If it goes through, I guarantee that we will end up back here asking the following questions. Where did we get it wrong? What has happened to the country? Why are so many people leaving again? Why can we not produce our own goods? As Ireland has the quality and reputation, why not keep it? I appeal once again to the Ministers to withdraw the Government's amendment and support Sinn Féin's motion.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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The beef and livestock industry is a large part of the rural economy's sustainability. It affects every rural parish. Were it not for its contribution, rural Ireland would be barren. I am conscious of small beef producers. We should not forget their contribution to the dairy sector. They are the ones who are buying up surplus dairy herd calves for the beef herd. Suckler cows are also of huge importance to rural Ireland.

I have always been conscious of the opinion that the beef farmer is the poor relation in the wider farming enterprise. When anyone is the poor relation, there is less thought of him or her. Since I came into this House almost 18 years ago I have seen how beef farmers have struggled against all the odds, the political establishment and the beef barons as they try to make a living and get a decent price for their produce. It is very evident that the political establishment thinks a great deal more of the beef barons, rather than the beef producers. We have seen the beef barons manipulating the market in this market for their own selfish interests. Everyone knows who I am talking about. They have their feed lots and can manipulate the market to suit their own greedy intentions. This has happened during the years and nothing has been done about it by the people in power who could do something about it.

We have seen Phil Hogan's actions as a Commissioner and what he has negotiated in the Mercosur deal.

What will that mean for the beef farming sector, pig farmers and poultry farmers? It will have a major impact on their ability to survive. I do not believe for one minute that the political establishment of former Governments and the current Government give a goddamn about the poor weak farmers in this country. I do not believe it for one minute because they have sat on their arses down through the years and allowed the market to be manipulated to the detriment of the survival of the beef farmers. This is something that perhaps the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will try to explain when he stands up later. Brexit is down the road. What will be the consequences of Brexit? We also have Mercosur. Where will that leave what is left of our beef farmers?

I listened to the contribution of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. She spoke about a mixed agreement and that our current understanding is that all of the member states' parliaments, including this House, will have their say. What the hell does "our current understanding" mean? It means nothing. It is just a moment in time. We do not know that. I have heard nothing concrete coming from the Government last night or today that gives a guarantee the agreement will come back here and that the Government will use a veto to stop an agreement that will destroy our beef sector. What I want to hear from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he stands up is that he is giving an absolute guarantee that the Government, or whatever Government will be in power, will use its veto.

4:45 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I commend Sinn Féin for tabling the motion, although the Government will not support it, and I will give good reasons for this in due course. It has facilitated an interesting debate and I acknowledge people from the farming community and farming organisations in the Gallery. Obviously they are concerned about aspects of the trade agreement and turned out in numbers today to protest outside the House.

I found it extraordinarily distasteful of Deputy Mattie McGrath to try to introduce my late colleague, Seymour Crawford, into the debate in what I thought was a most distasteful way. I can understand the Deputy's inclination to run in, turn up the volume and run out but this is a serious debate that will go on for some time and I thought that was particularly distasteful.

I understand the opportunity the motion has given us and the political motivation for it, but it will not make one iota of a difference legally as to whether a deal, which is not on the table now, ultimately becomes a reality. It is a meaningless vote. I want to tell the House why I believe it is meaningless. It is because we are not at a stage where we have a legal agreement in front of us. What we have, and it is worth bearing in mind and I have repeated it ad nauseam, is a deal negotiated by the outgoing trade Commissioner, approved by the outgoing Commission, which has not been ratified by a single Council of trade Ministers, has not been approved by the European Parliament and has not been ratified by single government of any member state or any national parliament. My colleague has alluded to the process of approval at a later stage. What will happen between now and the final transposition of this headline agreement into a legal document is that in the intervening period we will have an opportunity to influence what the detail is of the headline agreement that has been put in front of us. In this sense, I concur with what Deputies Troy, Penrose and others have said, which is that this is not a done deal. I have been at pains repeatedly to say the proposal is not a done deal and we should collaboratively use the intervening period over the next two years to shape the detail. I made the analogy previously that deciding to buy a house and signing the detailed contract are very different realities. What we have an opportunity to do now, in the intervening period, is influence the detail of the agreement.

I concur with Deputy McConalogue and others who have said we support international trade. As a small island economy that exports throughout the world, we are privileged to be part of a trading bloc that negotiate trade agreements. Sinn Féin Deputies and Deputy Boyd Barrett are consistent in one regard - they are repeatedly hostile to international trade agreements that we negotiate and that we are privileged to be part of. When we knock on the door in a trade negotiation as part of a bloc of 500 million people, it is possible to jump to the top of the queue. What the UK will find out very shortly is that even as a country of 50 million people it might be able to negotiate trade agreements with Malawi or other minor nations but it will take its place in the queue for major trade agreements. We export to 180 different countries throughout the world. Trade agreements are the basis on which we do this. Those negotiations are a two-way street. I have said in respect of the proposals in front of us that the detail, notwithstanding the fact there is in all trade agreements give and take, is a difficult deal for the Irish beef sector. The opportunity we need to avail of in the intervening period is to influence the detail so we mitigate, frustrate, thwart - people can use whatever adjective they want - the ambition of Mercosur countries in respect of exporting product to the European Union market.

It is imperative, therefore, that we use the intervening period wisely in terms of agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority and the Food and Veterinary Office. We are awaiting inspection to export additional beef to China. We are awaiting Chinese officials to visit and approve plants. It is hoped this will happen in August. We have the same mechanisms here to use at our disposal to make sure the standards are set appropriately high. If we set standards similar to those we have to meet, we will have a level playing pitch. We need to make sure that there is fair competition and fair trade; we need to have not just free trade but fair trade. People have railed against the fact, and I will not get into a litany about Brazil's environmental traditions, which have been well traduced here-----

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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Human rights.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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-----or human rights, indigenous peoples or commitment to International Labour Organization, ILO, regulations. There are, in the headline agreement, provisions relating environmental issues, indigenous people and ILO regulations, which is a relatively new departure in negotiating trade agreements. Therein is the opportunity to nail down the detail in every sentence, with the i's dotted and t's crossed, to make sure we use those provisions to make sure that our farmers operate on the same legal basis as those of other member states, that ultimately this trade agreement works for us like other trade agreements, and there will be fair competition. Under other trade agreements, we have opportunities to export 65,000 tonnes of beef to Japan, 30,000 tonnes to Mexico and 10,000 tonnes to Vietnam. They are the type of opportunities we seek after the EU concludes trade agreements to see what share we can get. The intervening period must be used to seek a balance in those trade agreements to make sure we nail down in detail the terms and conditions under which they access our market.

Deputy Ferris and others alluded to the track record of the Government with regard to the agricultural sector in general and the beef sector in particular. I dispute this. True to fashion, playing the man rather than the ball, the Commissioner, Phil Hogan, was also attacked by speakers. I do not intend to name them. Would Deputies fancy their chances more with an agricultural Commissioner from Malta or Bulgaria-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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-----or from wherever one names? For example, the EU is putting €50 million into the compensation fund, which is matched by €50 million from the Exchequer. We are the only member state that has access to it. In fairness, that is part of the track record of the Commissioner, Mr. Hogan. In terms of my track record and that of the Government, we restored €50 million in cuts to the areas of natural constraint scheme. We put €20 million into beef environmental efficiency. We reviewed and extended the disadvantaged areas. We focused payments on where there is most disadvantage. In terms of the commitment of the Government to any specific sector, any available resources we had went specifically here. In addition, one of the great achievements of the Commissioner is the unfair trading practices directive, which will be transposed into Irish law.

That, combined with the initiative the Department is funding in respect of producer organisations, gives the farmers opportunities. None of these elements is a panacea on its own. Together, however, they give farmers the opportunity, when they are the sellers of their produce, to have more than the strength of one on the day of sales. Reference has been made to meat factories etc. In the same way, farmers can use those unfair trading practices regulations to bring greater transparency to the chain and see who gets what from it. They can then use that to leverage additional opportunities for the primary producers. There is also the possibility of using the initiative of producer organisations, which the Department is funding, to enable farmers to be greater than the power of one when they are negotiating trade agreements.

I do not see opportunities just in the climate and environmental areas. I also see other opportunities. For example, reference has been made to 99,000 tonnes carcass weight equivalent. The only segmentation in that area is the differentiation between fresh and frozen meat. We have to explore the opportunity to be more specific in that context. To me, a carcass is the prime cut of meat as well as every other cut that goes with it. We have to ensure that it is not just a differentiation between whether it is a prime cut which is fresh or frozen but that it is the full carcass in all of its manifestation. That is very important. Deputy Cahill made a point about Commissioner Hogan being one of our own. I have made this point before but I remind the Deputy that Commissioner Malmström is one of his own.

4:55 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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She is not an Irish Commissioner for Agriculture.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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These petty arguments do not enable us to make progress regarding the challenge we face. Let us be truthful about what is happening here today. This is an opportunity to vent the legitimate concerns of the beef industry. A vote today will achieve nothing because there is no agreement as we speak. We have an opportunity use the intervening time to influence the ultimate shape of this deal. That is a serious job of work that needs to be done and we do not need to be distracted by posturing for the purposes of political points scoring.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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We return to Sinn Féin to conclude this Private Member's business. Deputies Cullinane and Stanley are sharing time. I call Deputy Cullinane.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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It seems that the Minister, Deputy Creed, has gone full circle since the deal was first announced. He came out strongly against the deal initially, if we were to believe what he said then. Over the course of recent days, however, he has slowly but surely been reined in by the Taoiseach. The Minister has now come in here today to sell this deal and insult the Dáil by telling us that votes in this Parliament are meaningless. Votes in this Parliament are not meaningless because we are asking the Minister to adopt an Irish position, wear the green jersey on this issue and defend Irish interests.

The Taoiseach has been at pains to point out, as the Minister has been trying to do here today as well, that there is no deal yet. We are being told that ten years of negotiations will come to nothing and that this can all be sorted out when it comes to a vote in the European Parliament through qualified majority voting. It was Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that sold the country out on that issue. We actually had a veto on these trade deals in the past and we could stop them. We cannot stop them anymore, however. That is the fault of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael down through the years.

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, was very patronising earlier to people in urban areas. She seems to think that they do not understand farming and the importance of farming for rural Ireland and the broader economy. We do understand. My point is that Irish farmers have led the way in traceability, standards, environmental changes, animal welfare and on quality. That is why Irish beef farmers produce the best beef in the world and that is why we do farming very well. What I have heard from the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers in recent times is almost an attempt to equate Brazilian beef with Irish beef. They are trying to pretend that Brazilian beef is not inferior to Irish beef. Irish beef is much superior to South American beef. Everybody knows that. We have built that reputation up over a long number of years but this Government is selling that reputation out as we speak.

What has not been spoken about here much is who are the winners in this deal. We know who the losers are. They are beef and poultry farmers and the pigmeat sector. Irish farming is a loser, rural Ireland is a loser and the Irish economy is a loser. There is no doubt, however, that there are also winners. They are not here in Ireland, however. The winners are in Germany. Fair play to the German Government, which certainly wore the German jersey and made sure that it got the best results for the German people. German car manufacturers are going to do very well out of this deal as they flood the South American market with cheap cars. Can the Minister not see the irony and the brass neck of the Government when it tells people in rural Ireland that they should lessen their dependency on cars to meet climate change targets, which we all do need to do, when at the same time the same Government is signing up to a trade deal that will flood South America with cheap German cars.

What is the cost? It is the selling out of Irish farmers. The European market will be flooded with cheap and inferior South American beef. The Government will also sell out all of the hard work done over many years by Irish farmers. The real winners here are the car manufacturers in Germany and the big corporations. Fine Gael's problem when it comes to farming is that in recent years it has increasingly stood up for the big ranchers and allowed family farms to decline. It is factory lots that are coming into play. When we do farming well in this country, it is on family farms. That is where beef and dairy farmers produce the best quality products. We can see that the move away from family farming in Europe and in South America.

Rainforests in South America are being cut down to make way for these big factory farms. That is who Fine Gael represents. It represents the corporations, the big farmers and the big ranchers and not the ordinary family farmers whom that party is selling down the river with this deal. This deal is mad. It is absolutely mad. When we had a banking crisis in the past, this Minister and his Government, together with Fianna Fáil, asked politicians here to put on the green jersey to bail out the banks. Why does this Government not put on the green jersey now and support Irish farmers? Why does it not put on the green jersey and support rural Ireland? Why does it not put on the green jersey and support the Irish economy and ensure that this deal does not become a reality and decimate farmers across this State?

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I heard the very dismissive comments earlier from the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, concerning Sinn Féin's position on this issue. Our party is for fair trade and trade that is beneficial. Let me be clear about that. However, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, has come out against this deal, as has the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, and the IFA. The people from the Beef Plan Movement were outside on the streets today, as were environmentalists. Is the Minister going to dismiss all of those people as well?

The Minister can tell us that this deal has not been signed yet and that it is not perfect. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, stated that our current understanding is that all member state parliaments, including this House, will have their say. The problem is that they will have their say but we do not have any control over this deal. All we are getting is a say because the right to put the brakes on a deal like this was signed away in the Lisbon treaty. Those are the facts. We are facing a situation where the interests of the farmers are being whittled away. I want the Minister, Deputy Creed, to tell this House exactly how he intends to police the quality of the Brazilian beef which will be imported into the EU. I am referring to Brazilian beef, which is produced using hormones and chemicals banned in Ireland and across Europe. I am referring to beef which is not tagged and that has no traceability.

I want the Minister to tell this House as well how he is going to manage President Bolsonaro, the far-right leader of Brazil. He has already stated that he intends for Brazil to break away from the Paris Agreement. There are also reports that in Brazil, criminal gangs are going into indigenous areas and clearing native people from their land. That land is then being sold to ranch farmers for beef production. Human rights groups are also reporting that nine indigenous farmers were murdered in April alone during forest clearing of frontier areas. That was all done in the name of profit.

I have heard Fine Gael Ministers speak about reforestation. It is not possible to replant a rainforest. Those habitats cannot be replanted with monocultural forest. Those are the facts of this situation. It is ludicrous to even think that is possible. I do not think that we even need to outline the sort of conditions that workers face in Brazil. Does the Minister have any idea what the working conditions are like in the beef industry in Brazil? Does he have any idea what the conditions are like at the moment for these people?

6 o’clock

We are asking the Government to protect the beef sector, the economy and the environment and not to create more climate chaos. We have declared a climate emergency. The Joint Committee on Climate Action has brought a report to the Minister and the Government has produced a plan, which is a major step forward, though we might have some criticisms. We cannot then get involved in this type of deal. We know that Commissioner Hogan envisages this happening very quickly because of the remarks quoted earlier. He has said that in the right circumstances we could have a deal quite soon. That is how he sees it. He is in the powerful position of being an EU Commissioner, one of the people who will make the call on this.

We know the damage this will cause to rural Ireland and to farmers. The IFA, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, ICSA, and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, are very clear on this, as are the members of the Beef Plan Movement who were outside here today. We in Sinn Féin are clear on the damage this will cause. We are asking the Government to take a stand and do the right thing.

Under previous Governments the sugar beet industry was sold out. I know the effects of the loss of the sugar beet industry on the part of the country I come from and what happened to people in the midlands when it was sold out by a previous Fianna Fáil Government as part of a trade deal. Will the Government allow the same thing to happen to the beef industry? That is the question for the two Ministers present. Will Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance allow that to happen? Will they rein Commissioner Hogan in? Will they stop the selling out of the beef sector and ensure the same does not happen to it as happened to the sugar beet industry?

Our motion is simple. It calls on the Government to "vote accordingly at the European Council and the Council of Ministers and consider this motion as binding on this and future Governments; and immediately begin building a coalition across the EU to ensure that this deal is rejected".

It also calls on the Government to ensure that Ireland’s interests are put to the fore in all engagements in the future. That is what we are doing.

Amendment put.

5:05 pm

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 11 July 2019.